Cut to Reach Up benefits delayed another 60 days

The extension is the latest development in a class action lawsuit brought by Vermont Legal Aid to halt the rollout of a policy that would cut the amount that some 860 families receive each month from a benefits program for low-income families.

Legal Aid asserts that the cut discriminates against people with disabilities and is unconstitutional. Christopher Curtis, an attorney for Vermont Legal Aid, calls the cut a “poor tax.”

“We are very pleased that our clients and other affected beneficiaries can expect to receive their regular benefit amounts for October and November,” Curtis said in a statement Friday. “Our goal is to stop this benefit cut – this ‘poor tax’ – from harming low-income families with disabilities who cannot afford it. This temporary agreement will come as a welcome relief.”

VT agrees to delay cuts to family assistance

The state of Vermont has agreed to further delay the implementation of a cut to the Reach Up program that would reduce monthly assistance by $125 for hundreds of Vermont households that include an adult with a disability.

The Reach Up change was initally scheduled to take effect in August. Days before the deadline, Vermont Legal Aid attorney Christopher Curtis filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of impacted families, calling the cut an unconsitiutional "poor tax."

Governor, task force want license restoration to expand statewide

A task force born during the legislative session is calling for a new approach to the driver's license restoration process.    
"We need to make sure these initiatives are available to all Vermonters not just Vermonters in a particular geographic area," said Chris Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid. "Legislating a solution is one way to address all of those issues."

VT defends budget cut in federal court

An assistant attorney general argued in court Tuesday that the state legislature acted fairly in cutting cash assistance for about 860 poor Vermont families.

Christopher Curtis, the Vermont Legal Aid attorney leading the lawsuit [against the state], has called the cut a “poor tax.” He claimed Tuesday that the cut is unconstitutional, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is pre-empted by federal law.

"This is a seismic shift in the way that Reach Up is administered in the state of Vermont," Curtis said. "It's a big deal."

Vermont considers statewide approach to driver's license restoration

Lawmakers will likely look at legislation next year that could help Vermonters overcome driver’s license suspensions due to their inability to pay fines.

Christopher Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid, and a member of the task force, said traffic tickets can become very significant barriers to transportation for low income Vermonters.

“That just starts a spiral, a cascading effect that really puts people in a hole from which it is very difficult to emerge,” Curtis said Tuesday.

Finding reliable transportation is difficult for many Vermonters, Curtis said. If a ticket with a fine of a few hundred dollars is beyond an individual’s budget, Curtis said, that person may not be able to get to work.

Though the task force is still in the early phases of pulling together any legislative approach resolving suspension due to unpaid fines, “This is a way to get people back on track,” Curtis said.

Vermont case shines light on assisted outpatient treatment use

New England Psychologist reports that our Mental Health Law Project's successful argument before the Vermont Supreme Court may change the way the state can utilize involuntary outpatient commitment, also known as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT).

“The way that community mental health centers view it is that if things are working they generally like to keep the treatment plan in place,” said [Jack] McCullough, [director of Vermont Legal Aid’s Mental Health Project]. “Why mess with what seems to be successful? And they are less likely to look at this as a significant limitation on personal freedoms. From my perspective, the courts are now applying the law the way it was written and are not giving the state such a free hand.”

Plights of two Vermont Health Connect users show where problems persist

This article relates the stories of two women who signed up for health plans through Vermont Health Connect. One woman paid premiums for months only to find out she didn’t have coverage, while another woman hasn’t paid a premium this year but is covered.

Trinka Kerr, who heads Vermont Legal Aid’s Office of the Health Care Advocate, is quoted extensively in the article.

State could face more cost overruns for health care exchange

The Shumlin administration has placed a partial dollar amount on state staff costs stemming from manual processes and workarounds associated with Vermont Health Connect’s messy open enrollment period earlier this year. The amount? $800,000 per month.

“We are definitely seeing an improvement with VHC. There are still a lot of problems related to … old change of circumstance issues that are still pending,” said Trinka Kerr, lead attorney with the Office of the Health Care Advocate, a consumer protection project of Legal Aid.

NAACP received “avalanche” of discrimination complaints in first month, president says

Marsha Curtis, Vermont Legal Aid's housing discrimination testing coordinator, and Rebecca Plummer, a staff attorney with Legal Aid's Housing Discrimination Law Project (HDLP), were quoted and referenced extensively in this article reporting on the August 10 meeting of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Marsha and Rebecca presented information about findings reported in the HDLP's 2014 Rental Discrimination Report.

"'The study shows preferential treatment toward white residents without children and without an apparent disability,' said Marsha Curtis, of Vermont Legal Aid."

"Plummer said that there should be mandatory fair housing training for all Vermont housing providers."

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Gov. Shumlin Appoints Legal Aid Attorney to Superior Court

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced today that he will appoint attorney Kirstin Schoonover, presently of Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., to the Vermont trial bench.  Schoonover fills the seat left open by the appointment of Judge Harold “Duke” Eaton, Jr., to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court.

Schoonover has advocated on behalf of low-income Vermonters at Legal Aid since 2007.

... “Kirstin’s long record of helping those Vermonters who can least afford legal services speaks volumes about her compassion and sense of fairness,” Gov. Shumlin said. “She is a person with an extraordinary commitment to service and a deep understanding of the challenges facing Vermont’s judiciary.  These skills, combined with her quick intellect and mastery of the law make me proud to appoint her to the Vermont bench.”